The Biden administration announced Friday that it intends to “repeal or replace” a Trump-era rule change that gave permission to build roads, log and make other developments in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Under Trump, the U.S. saw the largest reduction of protected public lands in its history.
The Tongass, which was originally protected by Bill Clinton two decades ago, comprises 9.3 million acres of forest and is the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world, earning it the nickname “the lungs of the country” because it absorbs approximately 8 percent of annual U.S. carbon emissions — more than any other national forest.
In an email to the Washington Post, USDA communications director Matt Herrick said the department “recognizes the Trump Administration’s decision on the Alaska roadless rule was controversial and did not align with the overwhelming majority of public opinion across the country and among Alaskans.”
Republicans like Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, however, have argued that rolling back protections prevents the state from getting a desperately needed economic boost.
This move is part of the Biden administration’s broader environmental and climate change strategy, which includes undoing more Trump actions that were detrimental to the environment. On June 1st, the administration announced it had suspended almost a dozen gas and oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, part of Trump’s end-of-term efforts to ruin the environment as much as possible before he left office. Biden is also looking to undo another Trump anti-environment initiative by expanding protections for streams, marshes and wetlands that Trump cut back, the Post reported.
Although the administration announced its intent to make the rule change, the details of how much of the Tongass it intends to protect are not yet clear. According to the White House, the federal government will issue a notice of proposed rule-making by August. Then the government will conduct an environmental analysis and issue a decision, but that could take years.
Environmental groups praised the move. “We applaud this first step in what we hope will be a swift process to restore full Roadless Rule protections to the Tongass National Forest,” said Ellen Montgomery, public lands campaign director for Environment America. “The Trump administration’s rollbacks were an attack on the Tongass, which is a priceless treasure and a beacon of nature.”